Psychological safety

Published: 25.11.2021
Categories: Culture
Reading time: 8 min
Wundercon 2023 Zane raising a hand

We at Wunder repeatedly and publicly communicate about our values and raise aspects of inclusiveness and psychological safety on the table. Here, we show you that we practice what we preach by giving examples of how we ensure that Wunder is and develops further as a psychologically safe work environment.

Psychological safety is a concept of an individual’s trust to address concerns, point mistakes, ask any question, or share an idea with others without the fear of being humiliated or punished. Right now, it is a hot topic worldwide as, for example, a pioneer of the field, Amy Edmondson, was ranked #1 in Thinkers Fifty awards in 2021opens in a new tab.

“There’s no team without trust”

Paul Santagata, Head of Industry, Google

On the contrary, an environment that lacks psychological safety steers its members to a culture of silence. It’s easier to stay silent when having a fear of losing face, being laughed at, or facing another type of negative reaction to one’s comment or question. Many of us probably recognize the feeling from professional life as well; it’s better not to open my mouth, so the others won’t realize how unprofessional I am or how silly my thoughts are.

Without psychological safety, a team cannot reach its optimal level of operating. When the things that need change are not addressed within the team, the teamwork cannot develop to its full potential because efficient collaboration requires open communication. Openness is also at the core of building a psychologically safe environment, enhancing the learning process within a team. When anything can be brought up for discussion – fails and other uncomfortable subjects included – the team and its individuals can better grow and learn from the mistakes.

To learn more about psychological safety, we’ve written an article about the subject: Psychological safety – not a luxury but a key to success. There is also a webinar recording available about the topic in Finnish.

How Wunder works towards being a psychologically safe work environment

When trust has been lost, regaining it is a time-consuming and challenging road to take. Thus, putting effort into building trust and nurturing it from the moment the team is formed can make a world of difference in the team’s success. As we at Wunder don’t have fixed project teams, the teams vary constantly. When a new project is about to begin, the best-suiting talents are gathered in the project team, so some of the team members may be new to each other while some might be old friends – and then there’s always the client’s team in the equation. Thus, the team and the team dynamics are different in every project.

To ensure the collaboration starts on the right foot, already the project kickoff focuses on building a healthy team culture. The team’s wellbeing is then often reviewed with a questionnaire after the kickoff, in the middle of the project, and at the end of it.

Building psychological safety in project teams starts at the team kickoff

Traditionally the team kickoff involves going through the team members’ expertise, sharing tasks, and planning the project. We have changed the focus from project scope and technical details to people. That doesn’t mean the kickoff is not about the project but that the kickoffs’ “traditional” topics are run through a facilitated discussion focusing on getting to know each other better and sharing our thoughts on the things that matter regarding team dynamics.

The team’s expertise, expectations and ways of achieving common goals are tackled from a bit more personal point of view, guided by questions like:

  • Who are we, and why are we in this project?
  • What do I expect from this project?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • What concerns do I have?
  • How does success look for me?
  • What’s essential for me when working on a team?
  • What do I need from others?
  • What could cause conflict?
  • What do I want others to know about me?
  • What makes me feel safe on a team?
  • How do I feel about feedback?

We wanted to design the questions so that the responses would build as honest image of the team members' needs and concerns as possible. With this frame, the necessary information for the project’s practical execution is handled simultaneously while the team gets to know each other and practices open discussion – the foundation of successful teamwork.

After the kickoff, and where possible, the team’s wishes are turned into tangible actions: reserving a project room: a place where they can work together when at the office, scheduling team lunches, setting up after-work beers, and so on. Whatever the team needs to enhance active interaction to tighten the team members’ bonds by building and maintaining trust.

The kickoff is a good start, and it’s often followed by regular questionnaires

With the team kickoff, the steering wheel is set straight to sail towards a good spirit and a smooth project. However, especially with larger teams, it is sometimes good to ensure the course towards psychological safety is maintained during the project and afterward check where they went ashore. For this purpose, we often send short surveys for the team members that help to give an overall view of how it is going so far and how the project proceeded.

The survey is based on the following template:

Hi! As a part of the Psychological safety initiative, we want to measure the level of Psychological safety on our teams. This survey is based a on a survey measure of Psychological safety by Amy C. Edmonson in her work The Fearless Organization.

Your feedback matters and will help us continue the work to increase the feeling of psychological safety on the teams of Wunder. There are 7 questions in this survey that we ask you to rate on a scale of 1-7. This usually takes 2-5 minutes.

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No-one in this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

After every question, there is a possibility to give open feedback and share observations regarding the situation in question.

With the questionnaire, it is easier to spot troubling signs from the project team, and most importantly, take early action to fix the situation. This questionnaire is often sent multiple times during a project, depending on the project’s duration and team size. The feedback given at the end of a project provides valuable information also for the future, helping us develop our workplace.

Company-wide we review our atmosphere with Siqni-surveys, 360 peer-review, and monthly Mood Meters

We have now shared some examples with you about the actions we take towards building a psychologically safe team, but there is work outside projects, and all of us don’t work on projects at all. Hence, there must be some company-wide actions to ensure that the overall well-being is considered in everything we do.

We have measured Wunder’s employee satisfaction and wellbeing with the yearly Siqni-surveyopens in a new tab since 2016. Siqni provides a comprehensive questionnaire, asking dozens of questions from employees to give an individual-driven view of the current state of how well their employer performs to fulfill their needs. And ever since we’ve started to take the survey, Wunder has been a certified Future Workplace, thanks to the scoring we have received from our employees. You can read a bit more about Siqni and how the results looked in 2021 from our article “Top 5 reasons why Wunder is (again) a Future Workplace”.

Another yearly survey that gives valuable insight for future development focuses on the individuals around us rather than the employer: the 360-degree feedback survey. Where Siqni-survey asks a remarkable number of questions about the workplace itself, the 360-survey plumbs how your colleagues see you as their teammate. It also includes self-evaluation and gives food for thought by comparing the average scoring given by your team members to your scoring of yourself. The 360-degree survey is a million-dollar opportunity to get such comprehensive feedback of yourself to grow not only as a colleague but as a person as well. Stepping into your coworkers’ shoes helps you acknowledge your strengths and spot the points for development.

These two surveys above are taken yearly and collect a considerable amount of information and thus, are time-consuming. However, our monthly Mood Meters produce precious insights about how Wunderers are holding up right now. Mood Meter is a light, quick-to-take survey created and analyzed by our Talent team. The results paint a picture of our overall mood: how Wunderers are feeling about their workload and how they are in general. Especially after the coronavirus forced us to stay at our home offices completely, Mood Meter has been an invaluable tool to measure the overall atmosphere.

All these surveys above serve as important data sources to Wunder’s Talent team and management, showing where to focus next and where we have succeeded. A significant part of psychological safety comes from the sense of being heard and taken seriously, and a great part of the feeling of being heard comes from the actions done accordingly.

Because the surveys themselves don’t matter. What matters is what is done with the received information.

The road towards a psychologically safe work environment never ends

We approach building a psychologically safe work environment from many aspects: helping our employees grow with peer reviews and collecting comprehensive, honest, and anonymous feedback about Wunder as an employer. On top of that, we arrange workshops, have a team dedicated to psychological safety, and continuously educate ourselves and our employees around the subject. As with our other initiatives, every Wunderer can also join our Psychological safety team. On a bi-weekly basis, there is a meeting open for all the Wunderers. Topics vary and are announced in advance – cultural differences (and how to benefit from them), how to include a team member, who enters the project when it's already ongoing, how to tackle difficult situations in the teams etc.

Psychological safety is something that can never be completed, as psychological safety is a subjective feeling that has everything to do with trust, and trust cannot be forced. The employer’s job is to show their trustworthiness throughout their actions, and we leave drawing the conclusions on how Wunder succeeds in it on our employees’ shoulders. However, based on the surveys, we have been doing well in this field so far and aim to work even harder in the future to make sure inclusiveness and openness stay presented amongst us.

Come and develop psychological safety with us

We're always looking to welcome same-minded people amongst us. So, if becoming a Wunderer sounds like a plan to you, check out our open positions, and let us know about you. We are waiting for your contact!

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